This prayer, penned by our Saviour Christ in the behalf of His disciples and his Church unto the end of the world, standeth first upon invocation, then upon certain petitions.
The invocation is the style or word of salutation, wherein we call upon the Majesty of God. The petitions contain the sum of those things we seek for at the hands of God.
That which we have generally to note out of this preface is, that this is one benefit which God vouchsafeth us, that we may pray unto Him, and be heard; whereby we are to conceive of Him that He is not like the great monarch to whom no man might presume to speak, except he 'hold out his golden sceptre' to him, as it is in Esther. The heavenly Majesty vouchsafeth every man this honour to speak to Him, and the golden sceptre of his word doth allure us thereunto.
Secondly, it is a greater benefit to pray to God on this manner, that is, by the name of Father; and therefore by that which He promiseth the faithful, 'Behold they call I will hear them,' we are taught that we are so assured of God's goodwill and favour towards us, even before we open our mouths to ask anything of Him, that we doubt not to call Him Father; from whence we may reason as the Apostle doth, 'Seeing He hath given us His Son. how shall He not with Him give us all things?' So seeing God taketh us for His children, how shall He deny us any thing whereby He may shew Himself a Father?
[362/363] In the first, we consider the perfection of God's goodness in these words, 'Our Father.' In the second, the excellency of His power, expressed thus; 'Which art in Heaven.'
Both these are attributed unto God, not only of the Christian but even by the heathen that are strangers to the Church, for they attribute this unto God, that He is optimus maximus; and therefore where these two doubts arise in our hearts, Domine si vis, 'Lord, if thou wilt,' and Domine si quod potes, they are both taken away by these two attributes.
By that term which setteth out the perfection of God's goodness, He assureth us that He is willing; and by that which expresseth the excellency of His power, we are taught that He is able to perform our requests.
His goodness giveth us fiduciam that in regard of it we may 'boldly come to the throne of grace.'
The consideration of God's power breedeth in us devotion and reverence--for both must be joined together; neither fear without the consideration of His goodness, nor bold confidence that is not tempered with a dutiful regard of His power, is acceptable to Him.
So that which we learned in lege credendi, that God is the Father Almighty, is here taught again in lege supplicandi, where we are instructed in our prayers to ascribe both these unto God; first, that He is our Father, secondly, 'our heavenly Father.'
The consideration of these two are the pillars of our faith, and there is no petition wherein we do not desire that God will either shew us His goodness or assist us with His power, and no psalm or hymn that is not occupied in setting forth one of these.
The titles which express God's goodness have two words; the one word of faith, the other a word of hope and charity.
Of both these words of Pater and noster Basil saith, that here Lex supplicandi non modo credendi sed operandi legem statuit, 'The law of prayer doth not only establish and confirm the law of belief,' but of working also; for where in the word 'Father' is expressed the love of God to us, it comprehendeth withal the love we bear to Him.
Where we call God 'our Father,' and not 'my Father,' [363/364] therein is contained our love to our neighbour, whom we are to love no less than ourselves: 'Upon these two hang the Law and the Prophets.' Again, the word 'Father' is a word of faith, and 'our,' a word of charity; and the thing required of us in the New Testament is fides per charitatem operans 'faith which worketh by charity.' So that in these words, 'Our Father' we have a sum both of the Law and the Gospel.
Christ might have devised many more magnificent and excellent terms for God, but none were apt and not for us, to assure us of God's favour. Our Saviour saith, that earthly fathers which many times are evil men have notwithstanding this care for their children, that if they ask them bread they will not give them a stone: 'much more shall our heavenly Father give us the Holy Spirit if we ask it.'
Wherefore Christ teaching us to call God by the name of 'Father' hath made choice of that word which might serve most to stir us up unto hope; for it is magnum nomen sub quo ne mini desperandum, 'a great name under which no man can despair.'
There may seem an opposition to be betwixt these words 'Father' and 'our,' if we consider, first, the majesty of God, before Whom the hills do tremble, and the Angels in heaven cover their faces; secondly, our own uncleanness and baseness, both in respect of the mould whereof we be made, which made Abraham confess himself unworthy 'to speak unto God, being but dust and ashes;' and also in regard of our pollution of sin, in which regard we are called the slaves of sin, and children of the devil.
Herein we find a great distance between God and us; and so are we far from challenging this honour to be the sons of God in regard of our selves. "Who durst," saith Cyprian "pray God by the name of Father, if Christ our advocate did not put these words in our mouths He knoweth how God standeth affected towards us for all our unworthiness, and therefore seeing He hath framed this petition for us, we may boldly as He commandeth say thus, 'Our Father.'"
Therefore, albeit of ourselves we cannot conceive hope that God is 'our Father,' yet we may call him Father by the [364/365] authority of Christ and say with Augustine, Agnosce, Domine, stilum Advocati Filii Tui, 'Lord take notice of the style of our Advocate, Thy Son.'
We know not God's affection towards us, but by Christ we take notice of Him, for He hath 'declared Him' unto us; and being taught that God in Christ vouchsafeth to admit us for His children 'we do with boldness come to the throne of grace'.
Therefore we have thankfully to consider unto what dignity we that live under the Gospel are exalted, not only above the patriarchs in the time of the Law, but above the heavenly Spirits.
Before the Law was given, Abraham saith 'Shall I speak to thee O Lord?' In the Law Christ saith, Ego sum Dominus Deus tuus: then He was not called 'Father.' But if we ask that question which the Apostle maketh, 'to which of the Angels said He, Thou art My Son?' it will appear that God hath honoured us in a degree above Angles, for that He giveth us leave to call Him 'Father.'
Thus we see what pre-eminence we have from God above, as well the saint on earth in time of the Law, as the heavenly Angels; that we may not only pray, but pray thus, 'Our Father.'
In the word 'Father' we are further to note, not only that God is the cause of all things, for that He bringeth forth all things, but also His storg_ fusik\h, or 'natural affection,' to those things that are produced.
God's paternity is, first, generally to be considered in all creatures, which for that they have their being from God, He is said to be their Father: so Job called God Pater pluvuæ, 'the Father of the rain.' Also He is called Pater luminum, and this is a motive sufficient to move God to be favourable to our prayer, if there were no more, than we are His creatures: so David spake, 'Despise not the work of Thine own hands.' But men have another use of God's paternity; for whereas of other things God said, Producat terra, when no man was to be created He said, 'Let Us make man,' giving us to understand that howsoever other creatures had their being from God meditately, God Himself would be his Father and frame him immediately with his own hands.
[365/366] Secondly, when God created man according to His own image, He breathed into him life immortal, He gave Him the spark of knowledge, and indued his soul with reason and understanding, in which regard it is called 'the candle of the Lord.'
Thirdly, when an was fallen from his first estate, God opened to him a door of repentance, which favour He hath not vouchsafed to the Angels that fell; and so we may crave God's favour, not only as we are the works of God's hands, but as we are His own image.
Fourthly, God is 'Our Father,' as we are Christians. That which Moses saith 'Is He not thy Father?' and, 'Doubtless Thou art our Father,' is to be understood of our generation; but we have a second birth, call ¢uag_unjsij, 'regeneration,' which setteth us in a degree above mankind, and makes us not only men but Christians; which if we be, them we are the sons of God, not as the rain or lights, or they that are created to the image of God, but for that we are 'born of God,' that is, 'born again of the water and of the Spirit,' without which regeneration no entrance is 'into the kingdom of God.'
And our dignity in being the sons of God, in these three sorts, is to be considered: first, in that we are the 'price' of Christ's blood. Secondly, we have characterem, that is, 'the stamp' of the sons of God, when we are 'called Christians.' Thirdly, we are 'the temples of the Holy Ghost;' by means whereof He giveth us holy desires, and maketh us sorry that we have offended His Majesty. The assurance of this is that which the Apostle calleth 'the Spirit of adoption,' Which He sendeth into the hearts of Christians, to certify them both that they are the sons of God, and may call Him 'Father,' in a double sense, both in respect of nature and grace; not only by generation, but by regeneration.
In the natural affection that God beareth us, we have two things. 1. the immutabilty of it, 2. the excellency.
God doth teach us, that His love to us is unchangeable, in this that He expresseth it by the name of 'Father;' Nam pater etiasmsi offensus est pater, et filius etiamsi nequam tamen filius, 'A father though offended is a father, and a son though naught yet is a son.'
The master may cease to be a master, so may a servant; [366/367] the husband may cease to be a husband, so may the wife by means of divorce; but God can never cease to be 'our Father' though He be never so much offended, and we cannot cease to be His sons how wicked soever we be; and therefore God doth by an immutable term signify unto us the immutability of His affection.
And indeed, whether He do bestow good things on us, or chasten us, His love is still unchangeable, for both are to be performed of a father towards his children; and therefore whether He afflict us, or bestow His blessings on us, we are in both to acknowledge His fatherly care, howsoever to flesh and blood 'no affliction seemeth God for the present.'
This immutability of His love, as it ministereth comfort in time of affliction, so doth it comfort and raise us up in sin and transgression, so that notwithstanding the greatness of our sins we may be bold to seek God for favour and say, Etsi amiusi ingenuitatem filii, tamen Tui non amisti pietatem Patris, 'Although, Lord I have lost the duty of a son, yet Thou hast not lost the affection of a Father!'
The excellency of God's love appeareth herein, that He is not described to be God under the name of a King or great Lord, as Matthew the eighteenth. There we have an example of great goodness in pardoning ten thousand talents, but yet a doubt will arise in our minds except we know Him to be good otherwise than as a He is a King; for so, look what mercy He sheweth to us, the like He will have us shew to others: but we come short of this. But this is it that contents us, that He describes His goodness under the term of Father, in which regard how wickedly soever we deal, yet still we may say with the evil child, 'I will go to my Father.' He had cast off his father, he had spent all his patrimony; yet for all that he resolveth to go back, and his father is glad to receive him; he went, and met, and entertained him joyfully. Such affection doth God bear to His children.
The benefits that we have by the fatherly love of God, are of two sorts: First fructus indulgentiæ paternæ; secondly, fructus liberalitatis paternæ; that is, 'the fruit of fatherly compassion and the fruit of fatherly bounty.'
Fathers stand thus affected towards their children, that they are hardly brought to chasten them; and if there be no [367/368] remedy, yet they are ready to forgive, or soon cease punishing. Pro peccato magno paululum supplicii satis est patri, 'For a great offence, a small punishment is enough to a Father.'
And for their bountifulness, the Apostle saith, that there is naturally planted in fathers a care' to lay up for their children.' They are both in God; for facility ad veniam, 'to pardon,' and readiness to forgive, makes him Patrem misericordiarum, 'a Father of mercies,' not of one, for He hath 'a multitude of mercies,' great mercy and little mercy.
The affection of David towards Absalom, a wicked son, was such that he forgave him, though he sought to deprive his father of his kingdom; and though we offend the majesty of God, yet He asssureth us that He will be no less gracious to our offences than David was, for David was 'a man after God's own heart.'
Touching the care which God hath to provide for us, the Prophet saith, and also the Apostle, 'Cast your care upon the Lord, for He careth for you. He careth for us, not as He careth for oxen,' but such a tender care as He hath for the 'apple of His eye.' He provideth for us, not lands and goods as earthly fathers, but 'an inheritance immortal, incorruptible, and that fadeth not, reserved in heaven for us;' and hath prepared for us a heavenly kingdom whereof we are made 'co-heirs with His Son Christ.' And this is the fruit of His fatherly bountifulness towards us.
Out of these two, the immutabilty and excellency of God's love shewed both in forgiving sins and providing good things, ariseth a duty to be performed on our parts. For nomen Patris ut explicat sic excitate charitatem, 'the name of a Father as it sheweth, so it stirreth up love;' as it sheweth quid sperandum, 'what is to be hoped for,' sic quid præstandum, 'so what is to be performed of us.' The name of a Father doth promise unto us forgiveness of sins, and the blessings not of this life only, but especially of that that is to come; and this duty liveth upon us, that we so live as becometh children; we may not continue in sin, but at the least must have virtutem redeundi, 'the virtue of returning. Why hast Thou caused us to go out of the way?' A child though he have wandered never so far, yet at length will come to that resolution, 'I will return to my Father.'
[368/369] But if we consider the dignity whereunto we are exalted, we shall see on earth, Si filii Dei quodammodo dii sumus, 'If we be the sons, we are after a sort gods;' et divinæ participes naturæ, 'partakers of the divine nature, as the sons of men are men.'
But the Apostle sets down this plainly: 'Behold, what great love He hath shewed us, that we should be called the sons of God.' This dignity requireth this duty at our hands, that we reverence our Father. 'If I be Your Father where is My love? If ye call him Father, Who without respect of person &c.,' then 'pass the time of your dwelling in fear.'
'Our' is a word of hope , as 'Father' is a word of faith; for he that says noster, our includes himself, and by hope applieth God's favour in particular to himself, which by faith he apprehends to be common to all, neither doth appropriate it to himself, saying, 'My Father,' but included them with himself; and so the word 'our' is also the vox charitatis, 'the voice of charity.'
As the first word did teach us the Fatherhood of God, so the word 'our' implieth the fraternity we have with one another; for God, to shew what great regard He hath of the love of our neighbour, hath so framed and indited this prayer, that there is neither Ego, no mi, nor meum, nor mea, 'neither I, nor mine, nor my,' but still the tenor of it is 'Our Father,' 'our bread,' 'our trespasses,' 'us from evil.'
Therefore one saith, that prayer is not only breviarium fidei,' an abridgment of our faith, but d£neisma ¢g£phj, 'a mutual pledge of our love' towards our brethren, which is then especially testified when we pray to God for them. For this prayer which our Saviour sets down for us, and all Chrstians' prayers are not the prayers of nature, (pro se orat necessitas, 'necessity stirreth up men to pray for themselves') but the prayers of charity, when we are to commend the state of our brethren to God as well as our own, quia pro aliis charitas, 'for charity prayeth for others;' for in this prayer there is matter not only of supplication for the avoiding of evil, and comprecation for the obtaining of good in our own behalf, but of intercession also, to teach us that whether we desire [369/370] that evil be removed or good bestowed upon us, we should desire it for others as well as for ourselves.
The use of this doctrine is of two sorts: first against pride, for if God be not the Father of one man more than another, but all in common do call Him 'Our Father' why then doth one man exalt himself above another? 'Have we not all one Father?' and the Apostle saith, 'Ye are all the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus;' and our Saviour saith, Vos omnes fratres estis, 'we are all brethren.' Therefore we are not only to love one another as brethren, but to honour one another because we are the sons of God; for this end the Apostle exhorteth--'in giving honour to one another before another.' So far ought we to be from despising one another: Cur enim non puderat aspernari fratrem quem Deus non asperantur filium? 'Why are we not ashamed to scorn him to be out brother, whom God scorneth not to be His son?'
Secondly, it serveth against malice; we were all in the loins of Adam when he fell, and all one in the body of Christ; so that whatsoever He as our Head hath done or suffered, the same all men do and suffer in Him.
And lastly, we are included in this word, to teach us that we ought to wish the same good to others which we do to ourselves; for this is that which Christ commendeth in our Christian practice in the duty of prayers, ut singuli orent pro omnibus, et omnes pro singulis, 'that each should pray for al, and all for each other.'
He hath taken order that no man can pray this prayer but he must pray for others as well as for himself and so do good to all, and the mends that is made him is that they also for whom he prayed do likewise at another time pray for him; and though we cannot always pray in such fervency of spirit as it required in prayer, yet the Holy Ghost in such fervency of spirit as is required in prayer, yet the Holy Ghost 'doth supply our infirmity' by stirring up, others to pray and make intercession in our behalf cum gemitibus inenarrabilibus, 'with unspeakable groans,' even then when we cannot do for ourselves; and this is a special benefit, which the faithful have in the communion of saints.
The Apostle saith that God, to assure us that He takes us for His sons, hath sent His Spirit into our hearts, whereby we cry 'Abba, Father.' The one of these words hath respect to [370/371] the Jews, the other to the Gentiles, teaching that it is our duty to pray both for Jews and Gentiles, and so for all, though they be strangers to us.
Secondly, we are to pray for sinners, be their sins never so great, in hope that 'God will give them the grace to repent,' and to come 'out of the snare of the devil,' and that He will translate them out of the state of sin into the state of grace: for this life as long as it lasteth is tempus prætitum poenitentiæ, 'a time ordained for repentance.'
Thirdly, as for our brethren, so for our enemies as our Saviour willeth, for they also are comprehended under the word noster; 'for God hath shut up all in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon them all.'
Neither are we to pray in general for all, but for some in particular as need requireth. Not in general for all good things, but for some special blessings.
As we are to pray generally that God's will may be done, so (for 'that this is God's will, our sanctification') we may pray in particular for those things that we have need of; as to be delivered from all temptation generally, so specially from those sins whereunto the corruption of our nature is most inclined.